How to Measure EMF From Power Lines

The fact that you are reading this means that you are probably concerned about EMF radiation and the kind of potential damage it could cause to your health. Whenever we think of EMF and how to protect ourselves from it, our minds almost always go to cellphones, the Wi-Fi connections we depend on so much, smart meters, and dirty electricity.

However, there is one major source of EMF radiation that is often overlooked: power lines. 

Power lines – these things that we have all but almost completely forgotten about – carry extremely high-voltage electrical current either over our heads or under our feet.

Unlike our cell phones that are almost always in our hands, power lines stay hidden in plain sight, and that just might be what makes them so dangerous to human health when it comes to electromagnetic field radiation.

Let’s take a quick look at how safe it is to live under or near power lines, how much EMF radiation power lines actually emit, and ways through which we can both measure that radiation and protect ourselves from it.

Do Power Lines Really Create EMF?

Everything that runs on electricity creates electric and magnetic fields (EMF exposure).

Sunset with housing building and tree on the bottom and large, high voltage power lines as the main focus

When it comes to power lines, this field tends to be a bit more pronounced.

Whenever current flows through the lines, two fields are created around them: a magnetic field and an electric field.

Those are the exact two components needed to create an electromagnetic field.

However, it’s the magnetic side of things that makes these power lines so dangerous.

The electric and magnetic fields created when current runs through the wires has the ability to penetrate the human body and, as such, mess around with your cell function (i.e., cancer – but more on those studies later).

The extent, as well as strength of the electromagnetic field created around the power lines that could be running over your house this very minute, depends on three things:

  • How much current those power lines are carrying at any given second
  • The voltage of that current
  • How those lines are configured (meaning how far apart those lines are from each other and so on)

For the most part, power lines carry a great deal of electric current at extremely high voltage on a day to day basis (we’re not talking about non-ionizing radiation here).

This means that these wires create electric and magnetic fields that could go out and extend to about 300 meters or more.

That means that the further away you are from the lines, the less your chances of getting exposed to their electromagnetic field. There’s no doubt you’re at increased risk the closer you are to the electrical source.

How Safe is it to Live Under or Near Power Lines?

Nighttime looking up at a power line with the moon in the background and the side of a house in the foreground

The only way to know the safety of living near a power line is to measure the strength of the EMF produced by that particular power line.

The electromagnetic field generated by a power line radiates outwards, forming electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

This EMR is technically the strength of the EMF produced by the power line. Also, it’s this EMR that is measured to ascertain how safe it is to live near or even under that specific power line.

You simply can’t look at the size of the power lines or their proximity to each other and determine whether or not it’s safe to live there.

You must measure the EMR using something called a gauss meter but more about that a little later. 

How Dangerous are EMFs from Power Lines?

The health effects of EMFs have been extensively studied over the years.

High voltage tower looking from the ground up with sunset in the background

One study conducted by two researchers (Wertheimer and Leeper). This study took two groups of children: those who live under extensive configurations of high current-flow power lines and those who don’t. 

The study found the homes of children who developed cancer were found more often near high voltage power lines.

The findings went on to determine that the likelihood of occurrence appeared to be dose-related. The children who lived nearer to the lines were three times more likely to develop cancer than those who lived further off.

Further back, in 1932, a German doctor, Erwin Schliephake, claimed he had noticed strange symptoms in patients who lived near radio towers.

He termed the symptoms and condition “microwave sickness,” a condition that many practitioners refer to as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) today. The symptoms of this condition include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Exhaustion upon waking
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to sleep
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent infection and illness

There are well over 300 studies that have concluded that there is a link between the high-level of EMF emitted by power lines to conditions such as:

  • Brain cancer
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
  • Breast cancer in women and men
  • Miscarriages, reproductive problems, and birth defects
  • Childhood and adult cancer (i.e., leukemia)
  • Fatigue
  • Depression and suicide

Of course, there’s the now-famous study on the health effects of extremely low frequency EMF published in 2002 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer was established under the World Health Organization, and by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in 2003.

Much of the scientific research examining long-term risks from extremely low frequency magnetic field exposure has focused on childhood leukemia.

The World Health Organization classified ELF magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. 

What is a “Safe Distance” from Power Lines?

Whether it’s where you live or where you work, we are going to interact with the electric and magnetic fields of power lines. So it’s important to know how close is too close for your own safety.

In a nutshell, it’s not really the size of the power line that matters. The intensity of the current flowing through its wires and therefore, the strength and size of it EMF are crucial.

To be honest, it’s difficult to know what distance is safe enough.

However, there are observations that will give you a rough idea about the kind of health effects you can expect from the EMF and EMR emitted by power lines based on your distance in relation to the power lines themselves.

Here is what you can expect when dealing with a power frequency field of about 765 KV:

  • 50m distance: Increased chances of cancer, stunted growth, and increased triglyceride
  • 507m distance: Abnormal EEG’s
  • 834m distance: Decreased calcium flow
  • 1164m distance: Altered reaction times
  • 1400m distance: Altered biorhythms
  • 2000m distance: Stunted growth

EMR Studies

Studies tell us how much EMR is too much. Here are the effects you can expect from different levels of EMR on your body:

  • 2 mG-12mG: Studies have shown to cause adverse effects by blocking melatonin’s anti-cancer action, thus leaving more exposed to cancer
  • 4 mG: Studies have shown this much EMR increases the likelihood of childhood cancer – leukemia
  • 1.6mG: Studies have shown this much EMR doubles your chances of sperm abnormalities
  • 1-2mG: Studies have shown this much EMR increases the mortality rate in childhood leukemia patients by about 370%

The most harmful type of radiation you need to be concerned about when measuring EMF and EMR from power lines is from the electric and magnetic fields created by the current coursing through the wires.

The highest amount of this type of radiation tends to come from the high voltage lines. These are the all-metal towers that are often found in rural areas.

Yellow triangle radiation warning sign with gray background

Without the right gauss, it’s difficult to measure the exact amount of EMR being emitted by your power lines. The ideal number should be less than .5milligauss (mG). You would typically get this when you’re about 800m away from high voltage power lines.

More commonly, smaller, non-metal lines tend to be around where most of us live. These power lines also carry current and emit EMR, although to a lesser degree.

However, if you have a transformer near your house, there is a good chance that the lines near you are carrying more current than the typical lines you would find in the neighborhood since they help distribute the power to other houses.

In this case, you will find that the ideal reading of less than .5milligauss (mG) will be found anywhere between 15 and 150m away from these lines.

The Best Methods to Accurately Measure EMF from Power Lines

There is really just one reliable way to measure the EMF as well as EMF emitted by the power lines around or near your home – by using a reliable EMF meter.

The best type captures the magnetic radiation from your power lines, thus giving you an accurate reading of the most harmful type of radiation from those wires.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences provides information on ionizing radiation source and their effects on human health.

They, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, suggests contacting your local power company for an accurate reading or measuring EMFs yourself with the use of a gaussmeter. This site also includes a nice chart of non ionizing to ionizing radiation sources – all the way from visible light to x-rays.

The Environmental Health Sciences NIEHS also provides this handy guide on electrical and magnetic fields associated with the use of electric power.

Using an EMF Meter – Step-by-Step Instructions

Since using an EMF meter is the most reliable way to investigate your level of EMF exposure to power lines, let’s review using one for this task.

  1. Hold the meter in your hand with the top side facing away from you. This ensures you don’t block any EMF radiations using your body.
  2. Use the black knob (it’s very visible and easy to find just below the LCD screen) to change the settings of the gaussmeter to your preferred parameters.
  3. A good meter comes with a weighted mode that allows you to check EMFs from conductive bodies such as your human body. Remember to turn the knob to that weighted mode if you want to discover the amount of EMF you’re giving off.
  4. Turn the knob to the “AC Magnetic Mode” to get the correct EMR reading from your power lines.

Pretty simple!

EMF Protection Tips for Those Living Under or Near Power Lines

Most of us can’t pick up and move after discovering our house is giving off more EMR than we’d like.

If this is the case for you, you might appreciate this article on EMF protection in your home. Here are some additional tips:

Measure the strength of the EMR in your living space

This is the first step – you need to know what you are dealing with. Use a high-quality EMF meter to get the correct readings.

You want it to be below .5milligauss (mG), but you would be safe with up to 1milligauss (mG).

Get protection

If you are above the recommended safety levels, then it’s time to get protection.

Consider physical blockers like radiation protection paint. The top of the range of radiation shielding paint has an attenuation level of 36 decibels (dB). You can also try radiation shielding fabrics. Don’t forget about planting trees and shrubs to block electrical radiation.

Ultimately, if you’ve measured and tried to block as much as possible but it’s still too high, you might have to relocate. But this is only in extreme circumstances.

Don’t forget about non-ionizing radiation sources from other electrical equipment, such as EMFs from Wifi routers.